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CROATIA-VENICE-AMSTERDAM… PART ONE: DUBROVNIK…

Where is the beginning of this saga? Since no story truly has a beginning… there can only be a before… 
The before of this travel had my sister Merrilee & Diana, our Sister-in-Love, arriving for their first visit to Soundcliff, after these two decades I’ve been here with Stephen. Our joy in that bloomed over any pinch in our schedule, which is typically often pinched. We enjoyed the fabulously rare time to share our lives in garden & beach walks, stories & meals… all food for our souls! 

They left for Port Townsend just hours before the next guest: Joel… who used to live in Port Townsend!… arrived on his way to a family wedding in Canada before returning home to  Bali. [Read my posts about our times with him there…]

Such tight timing is a good way to introduce this travelogue for me, who quite unexpectedly… yet certainly happily… became Stephen’s traveling companion for this trip to Croatia.
He had been planning this trip with our friend Edward for many months. I had a ticket to meet Stephen in Venice, after the two of them had finished their tour of the Dalmatian Coast. But when Edward had to cancel on only several days’ notice because of poor back health, we changed my ticket at the last minute to become his replacement. 
I rather felt at times I was traveling with his ghost! 
The flight through Paris to Dubrovnik was predictable. Being functionally exhausted I dozed.  After all of these preparations en-extremes… changing my schedule while keeping to our usual style of comfortably easy hosting might have pestered me more had the visitations not attained some sort of perfection in entertaining… as welcome distraction.
Having had no hand in the planning, nor much of any time for preparation, I had little notion where the ghost of Edward had landed me. Our young driver Anna spoke easily fluent English for the rather long ride from the airport. She explained that students study the language from the first grade, thus being capable to host the country’s burgeoning tourist industry. The good road was built high above a beautiful coastline giving us a first peek down into the ancient walls of the old city. 

This coast has few sandy beaches because of the islands buffering it from the wave action already lessened by the narrowness of this finger of the Mediterranean Sea:

I could only delight finding us in an new hotel interestingly built on numerous levels tumbling from the street down to the intensely blue waters of the Adriatic. The room was on a lower level, in a newer addition, the route to which would never quite become familiar, with the various circuitous routes to find our way down from the lobby, around & through the complex… seeming always to involve several separate elevators… & even a short bit through a corner of the immaculate parking garage! 
We arrived without much jet lag, settling into our room & exploring a bit to find a drink before choosing to have our first dinner at the terrace restaurant we could see down below from our room… 
… as the sun was setting,… 
lighting a sliver of new moon over the several small islands we saw from our glass balcony… one with a lighthouse twinkling into the deepening colors over the Aegean Sea.
Our first course obviously pleased us!
 I was seduced to choose the first of what was to become
my favorite meal… grilled octopus… succulent & flavorful! 
We probably ordered it a dozen times more over the course of our trip… usually grilled, but also … sliced thin as part of a salad. Of course I am now learning how to shop for & prepare it at home!
Staying on the Dalmatian Coast, with its abundance of good seafood offered on any menu, we frequently ate from the sea. The food was wondrously good, with wines surprisingly delightful. We could imagine our lives being part of a continuum reaching back millennia, albeit celebrating only the more peaceful times… since even recent history unfortunately includes still-lingering disturbances. 
The Hotel More [logically meaning sea…] is located above a cove some distance from the urban center. Neighboring hotels tumble similarly down accessing a paved public walkway built just short steps above the sea. No sandy beaches, but numerous small paved bathing terraces tucked into pockets of rock formations, with ladders giving swimmers access to the gentle surf. 
We came to choose this picturesque route for our forays into, or more frequently returning from, town… once we learned that the bus system returning us from the old walled city had a stop down at that water level before riding up only slightly closer to the hotel’s front entrance. It was far more pleasant than walking further up a street which was too busy & narrow for pedestrians.

Evenings we could then find a moment for a last drink on one of the bars with seating steeply up & down numerous terraces…  or in the hotel’s famous Cave Bar, part of which was built into a cavity gouged into the cliff by the sea long ago. 

The deepest part had a glass floor suspended over its chthonic mysteries!
Pondering
Owning… for a moment

Yet it was always much more pleasant to sit al fresco
on the steep-stepped terrace bar to enjoy a drink in the evening’s glow.
From there it was a short elevator [or two!] ride
or a creative walk up to our room.

Croatia sits between Greece & Rome… the ancient historic classical standards of our western culture. Geography has made its history a richly tormented stew between that “classicism” & the more oriental “East” … Our destinations had even stronger history with maritime empire of medieval Venice… three walled cities: Dubrovnik, Korçula & Split, with day trips to Kotor, Montenegro- another walled city, plus Mostar, Bosnia, with its amazing stone bridge.

Forts like this will be our abodes for more than a week’s travels… with photographic opportunities abounding! I have an affinity for…Stone!

Even now, even here, there seems no good… certainly no easy… understanding of the simmering still inside the recent turmoil of a war between faiths which I suppose I will never quite grok. We get a sense that something still smolders under a surface most everyone hopes to pave over.

We are tourists in places dependent on our value to their economy… we all quietly choose to honor the more durable stones of history.

We were easily enticed to climb up to walk atop the high ancient stone walls, rising from the sea, protectively thick & thus occasionally wide enough to become small streets with terraces … places for restaurants & bars offering views on one side out to the water or down the other side onto the tile roofs of the old city.

 

We rewarded our exertions with a cool beer before continuing on, climbing many more… usually more narrow… paths stepping steeply up & down between parapets protectively defining & enclosing the old city

 One moment arrested my eye… this single shot of a tiled roof
carefully sawn… adjusting to the building’s geometric evolution
rather high atop the ancient organic / cthonic footprint…  
 The route eventually dipped down close to the water of the harbor.
Bell towers became a focus on this trip after seeing the mecanique of the iron gents wielding hammers to strike the bells. Later, we saw these retired originals in the museum…
  
The hotel’s buffet breakfast usually held us well until we found a late lunch, re-grounding before moving on to the next museum, or church, or to simply stroll through the streets… exploring how the generations who polished these stones traversed daily such a tight geography.

Curiously… or not, in this ever smaller world… as we sat waiting to be served one of the traditional lunches made with slices of meat stuffed & rolled like a wrap, at a table right in a narrow side street… a couple of guys we know from Seattle stopped to greet us! 

Our itinerary has us staying in three cities along this coast, each with its central old section inside ancient dramatic stone walls. These fortifications are astounding feats of engineering craft & art. 
We are scheduled for several days with drivers taking us inland to visit two neighboring countries familiar to the news stories of war in the Balkans several decades ago: Mostar, in Bosnia & Kotor,  in Montenegro. Following these excursions we drove in a sporty rented Mercedes up the coast, choosing the older coastal road over the newer freeway cutting more quickly above the vistas we enjoyed.

More posts will follow to cover these adventures…

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